In conversation with: Emma Coffield

Understanding the construction of artistic identity and how some people are recognised as artists and some objects/ideas and performances are recognised as art, while others are not, has led Emma to her current work exploring the spatial politics of art as well as young people’s engagement with contemporary art both in and out of the gallery space. In August 2016, Emma was appointed Early Career Academic Fellow in Media, Culture and Heritage.ecoffieldqa

Why did you choose to go into museum studies?

I didn’t! I originally trained in Fine Art at the Glasgow School of Art, then as an English Language teacher, and only after that started volunteering in museums and galleries. It seemed like the perfect job, so I did my MA here in Newcastle in Art Museum and Gallery Education and then worked as an intern in Glasgow for the Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art (GI), the CCA (Centre for Contemporary Arts), and worked in the Theatre Royal at night. While I was doing that I put in the PhD application – I’d enjoyed my MA so much I wanted to come back – but I never really felt like I was choosing one particular field of study. Museum studies is really interdisciplinary, and in my work I tend to lean on everything from art history to cultural sociology to geography, as well as museum studies of course.

What are your plans for your fellowship?

One of the best things about the fellowship is that I have time to dedicate to a new research project. It’s called ‘Geographies of Art: The Spatial Politics of Artistic Practice’ and it explores something that became clear during my PhD research: art isn’t either global or local – or somehow placeless. Instead, artists are making all kinds of complex decisions based on nuanced understandings and experiences that relate to place in varying ways– and I’m interested in that lived experience and its implications for practitioners. The key things for me at the moment are sorting out a schedule, finding opportunities to work with artists both in the UK and internationally, and writing! I’d really like to write a book…

We’ve love to hear what you’ve been up to over summer. What exhibitions have you seen that have sparked your interest?

Oh no, that’s such a difficult question! Helen McCrorie’s The Clock in Commune as part of the Edinburgh Art Festival is one of the best things I’ve ever seen, I finally got to the new Tate Modern and the Louise Bourgeois Artist Rooms exhibition there, and Jennifer West’s Flashlight Filmstrip Projections at Tramway (which is in the dark – visitors are given a torch) was a new one for me, but it was great to see people getting so involved in the materiality of the work. I’ve also been to a lot of really good (and free) events and film screenings at the CCA in Glasgow as part of their series looking at art and society, but the highlight is going to have to be the Hermitage in St Petersburg – I’ve wanted to see the golden peacock for such a long time!

Have you had a busy year with conferences? What’s been your personal highlight?

I went to two really great conferences recently. The first, Networks in a Global World, brought together qualitative and quantitative researchers interested in network analysis, and it had a specific set of panels that looked at networks in relation to art – so a perfect opportunity for me to find out about ongoing work around the world! There was also a fantastic keynote from Ronald Breiger, and I completely changed my mind about the value and application of quantitative data. We need more quantitative researchers in the social sciences! The second was at Heriot-Watt in Edinburgh, and was called Cultural Production: Diversity, Equality and Exclusion. There is a real urgency to this work and it can make for depressing reading at times, so it was great to meet so many people committed to change.

What books would we find on your desk at the moment?

My desk is covered with books at the moment (see picture) as I’m running a module later in the year that looks as art curation, and there are so many books to sort through to see if they might be good for the reading list! And then there are the books for my own research, and two new publications about artist-run initiatives… But these are all in my ‘to do’ pile (the ones I’ve read are either on the shelves or back in the library) so I’m afraid I can’t tell you much about them – yet!

As a teacher, what aspects do you most enjoy?

I tend to teach on the MA courses offered by MCH and a lot of our students are already in work or have extensive experience. We also attract students from all over the world, so when you are involved in a lecture or seminar where everyone starts sharing their expertise, that’s a fantastic feeling. I’m also really lucky in that I work on the exhibition module, where our students design and install a public exhibition. It can be quite an emotional process – there are so many decisions and practicalities to consider – but watching the work go up and everything come together is always so exciting. But I think my absolute favourite aspect is hearing what happens next. Our students have gone on to do some really amazing things, and that’s what it is all about in the end!

Thank you Emma.

More information on Emma Coffield’s current research can be found on her staff profile. Emma also co-convenes the Cultural Significance of Place group with Prof. Chris Whitehead and tweets @EmmaCoffield.  



Special Issue of Museum & Society: Call for Papers

pexels-photo-137038Special Issue of Museum & Society: Call for Papers

Call for papers for a Special Issue of Museum & Society – Museum Methods: Researching the Museum as Institution.


Nuala Morse, University of Manchester and University College London

Bethany Rex, University of Newcastle

Sarah Richardson, University of Leeds

Research in museums takes many forms; however, there has been significantly less work investigating the museum through institutional or organisational lenses. Overall, museum studies as a disciplinary field has tended to favour textual readings of museums, focused on the poetics of exhibitions or audience meaning-making through single gallery case studies. Some notable exceptions have increased our understanding of the internal workings of museums (Macdonald, 2001; Bouquet 2002; Zolberg, 1984), but there has been less work that has engaged with the museum in its entirety, attending to the complexity and multiplicity of its functions: as public institution, as corporate organisation, as space of representation, as educational establishment, as archive and collection store, and as legal entity with different governance arrangements. This is important to consider at a time where museum functions are arguably further expanding, notably as the funding structures of museums are changing.

Critically, there has been little offered in terms of methodological starting points to these concerns: the question of how to research the museum is rarely addressed, and on the whole, methodology is a subject that has mostly been absent from museum studies. As a distinctly interdisciplinary field, museum studies has embraced a range of diverse methods but without really addressing what ‘museum methodologies’ might usefully (and critically) encompass. Thinking about the multiple functions of museums briefly highlighted above, there has been a particular lack of engagement with institutional and organisational methods for researching museums.

This special issue aims to address this important gap, by focusing on methods for researching the museum as both institution and as organisation. The editorial will address the implications of these distinct concerns. The understanding of institutional and organisational methods advanced here takes inspiration from moves in geography, STS and cognate disciplines where a focus on processes, situated practices and organisational dispositions (Pallett and Chilvers 2014) has been coupled with a rich expansion in methodological sensibilities. In a turn away from strictly self-reflexive narratives of methodologies chosen and employed, this expansion has also advanced a heightened recognition of the consequences of our research practices and their politics. The special issue wishes to push a similar expansion in studies of the museum.

We are interested in methodological approaches that take the museum as an object of organisational and/or institutional concern. The unifying concern of the special issue is to investigate the bureaucratic features of museums: the rules, norms and codes of conduct through which museums are organised, as well as the mundane administrative dimensions and working practices of museums and their effects, We are looking for papers that address museum bureaucracies through a variety of museum activities such as management, development, education, community engagement, leadership, and exhibitions.

We therefore welcome papers focused on the topics below:

  • The institutional life of museum, including how the everyday practices of professionals make up museum-work worlds
  • The museum and understandings of bureaucracy
  • Particular features of museums as organisations, for example, professional amnesia
  • Organisational/Institutional rules in museums and how they affect practice
  • The social life of methods in museums
  • How institutional/organisational methods can be used as a site of critique
  • How can researching museums speak to other ways of understanding other institutions.

We are particularly interested in papers that draw upon methods developed in other disciplines such as anthropology, sociology and organisational studies and explore how they can be applied with the museum as object of research. This might include embedded approaches, including organisational/institutional ethnography (Ybema, et al., 2009; Cefkin, 2010), Participatory Action Research (Cameron, 2007), systems theory approaches (Bateson, 2001), and socio-material approaches, including Actor-Network Theory (Latour, 2005; Fenwick et al, 2015).

Potential authors:

The focus on the Special Issue is on methods: each paper must provide a clear contribution to developing methodologies for researching museums and their institutional, organisational and bureaucratic work, and may also debate the practicalities, promise and politics of such approaches across different international contexts. Papers will provide either theoretically informed pieces that outline methodological ‘road maps’ for exploring how museums function, or empirical methods papers that open up alternative ways of thinking about museums. Potential authors are encouraged to submit an abstract that will be reviewed by the editors. Abstracts should be between 300 and 400 words. Authors will then be invited to submit a full manuscript and all submissions will be subject to a peer review process.


Submission guidelines:

Manuscripts length will be between 5,000 and 8,000 words, following the journal guidelines. The journal guidelines are available here.


19 December 2016: authors to send abstracts to editors.

16 January 2017: editors notify authors whether the abstract has been accepted.

30 June 2017: authors to send first drafts of full manuscript to editors.

Manuscripts will then be sent to peer review, and papers invited for a ‘revise and resubmit’ will be due in early 2018. The special issue will be published in 2018.

Please send your abstract or any queries to Nuala Morse –

We look forward to receiving your contribution!

Nuala Morse, Bethany Rex and Sarah Richardson

#ExPRience: the Masterclass

#ExPRience: the Masterclass
 After the success of The Summer Series, #ExPRience is back with a Masterclass for all undergrad and post-grad PR, Comms and Digital Marketing students.
 Join us to hear from speakers who graduated from PR & Communication courses in the last couple of years, about:
·         Finding jobs in the North East
·         The reality vs expectation of working in PR
·         What they wish they’d known while studying
·         And many other insights and tips for starting your career
Plus hear from one of the North East’s fastest growing digital agencies about what they look for when recruiting graduates!
Date:     Wednesday, 26th October
Time:    3-5pm
Place:    Room 2.98 – The Spence Watson Lecture Theatre, Armstrong Building, Newcastle University.
Come out of the lift on 2nd floor and room 2.98 is directly opposite 
Any questions – contact us by email ( or tweet us @exPRienceNE

Self-Representation in Digital Culture

The next seminar in our series takes place on Wednesday 2nd November 2016, 3-5pm, 2.90 Armstrong Building, Newcastle University

Self-Representation in Digital Culture

For this seminar, we are delighted to welcome:
  • Dr Debbie Ging (Dublin City University) ‘I’m not starving myself, I’m perfecting my emptiness’: an analysis of pro-ana and thinspiration image sharing practices on Instagram.’
  • Dr Gareth Longstaff (Newcastle University) ‘Let’s Take a Selfie: Self-Representation, Pornographication and Impersonal Narcissism online.’

The seminar is free, and is open to all interested in attending.

Dr Debbie Ging (Dublin City University): ”I’m not starving myself, I’m perfecting my emptiness’: an analysis of pro-ana and thinspiration image sharing practices on Instagram.’

Since the pro-anorexia phenomenon, also referred to as pro-ana or simply ana, began to emerge on the internet in the early 1990s, there has been a growing body of academic work on pro-ana communities online. Underpinned by diverse and often conflicting disciplinary perspectives, most of this work focuses on websites and blogs. In recent years, however, the pro-ana ‘movement’ has migrated onto social media platforms. When, in 2012, both Tumblr and Pinterest imposed a ban to restrict pro-ana sharing, many pro-anas turned their attention to Instagram, a strongly visual application that was originally designed for editing and sharing photos. There is, however, a dearth of research, particularly gender-aware research, on pro-ana practices and discourses in the context of newer mobile social platforms such as Instagram. Using a dataset of 7,560 images, this study explores pro-anorexia and thinspiration image sharing practices on Instagram. It asks whether the shift from websites and blogs to this social media platform has entailed significant changes in terms of how the pro-ana community communicates and discursively constructs itself. We conclude that memes and the memetic nature of image sharing as well as the more peripherally governed, particpatory nature of Instagram impact upon pro-ana communicative practices in new ways that are worthy of feminist scholarly attention.
Dr Gareth Longstaff (Newcastle University): ‘Bodies that Stutter’ – Impersonal Desires, Jouissance and the queer politics of the selfie

Using the original concept of ‘Bodies that Stutter’ this paper will focus on how post-queer practices of self-representation on digital and networked media (captured in the practice of the sexually explicit ‘selfie’) frame a rhetoric of desire that reconsiders queer identity and body politics through processes of post-queer identification and those queer bodies that have previously ‘mattered’ (Butler, 1993) and ‘muttered’ (Dean, 2000). Using the work of Jacques Lacan to reposition Tim Deans and Judith Butler concepts of bodies that matter and bodies that mutter this post-queer body that stutters is reflective of the hesitancy, frustration, exhilaration, and repetition that it subversively contains, as well as remaining vulnerable to metonymic contiguity and transposition of a symbolically normative language it cannot control. ‘Bodies that Stutter’ are also the bodies that attempt to express a powerful jouissance through a language of the ‘personal’ and the metaphorical signifier. Yet, unlike Imaginary bodies that rely upon ego, the ‘Bodies that Stutter’ are subject to an impersonal Other that underpins how their desire is expressed metonymically – through this process they symbolically-stutter. A lot like desire, stuttering is reliant upon stops and starts, structure and chaos, satisfaction and dissatisfaction. It is also something that cannot be contained or applied to one body above another or indeed one identity and/or identity type. This paper uses the contextual focus of the sexually explicit selfie and its ubiquity among gay men on the website tumblr to suggest that bodies that stutter form a practice of ‘symbolic stuttering’ that might well occur in multiple, ambiguous, and oblique ways.

The format will be 30 minutes for each paper, followed by a discussion chaired by Dr Clifton Evers. We will have tea, coffee and something sweet at 3pm, followed by a drinks reception at 4.30pm.